WINNING HAS become the tradition for Penn's women's lacrosse team. This year is no different. The Quakers compiled a 12-4 record, going 6-1 to win the Ivy League and secure their eighth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. They play Canisius in the first round today at 4 p.m. in College Park, Md.
This season's berth was not without trials and tribulations. The No. 7 Quakers had their share of distractions, which led to losses in games that could have propelled them into the national spotlight. Through it all, the players grew closer, and the results reflected that camaraderie.
"It is something that you come to expect," head coach Karin Corbett said. "It is always a goal, but it is sort of an expectation. We would be really upset if we didn't make it. It doesn't help us, it drives us. After you win a championship, you want to fight to win that again. After you make the NCAAs, you want to fight to get there again."
Penn won its last five games of the season, including the Ivy League title game over Princeton after losing to the Tigers only 18 days before the championship showdown. The Quakers believe the 9-6 win on May 4 will give them the confidence they need in the NCAA Tournament.
"For our team, the momentum does carry over, because a lot of people doubted us during the season," defender Meg Markham said. "Princeton thought they were going to beat us, listening to their press conference before the game. Our team responds well to that kind of underdog position, and it fuels our revenge for the next game coming up."
The revenge, along with the excitement of playing in the NCAA Tournament, has helped the Quakers gain the confidence necessary for a run into May. Aside from the mental aspect of the game, Penn seems to be gelling on the field at the right time.
"Everyone is starting to hit their stride right now," senior midfielder Tory Bensen said. "Our team is peaking, and we are coming together very nicely. We all know where each other are on the field and everyone is really involved, whether they are playing or not. We are getting better every game, and are definitely hoping to continue that this weekend."
A big reason why Penn could extend its season into the second week of NCAA play is because of Markham. The junior was named the Ivy League defender of the year, leading the Quakers to the eighth-ranked defense in the country. Aside from her outstanding defensive play, she helps the team in other ways.
"She has so many caused turnovers," Corbett said. "She is also huge on the draw for us. She came up with some huge draw controls for us [last] weekend. If she didn't come up with the draws, she had two huge caused turnovers on the draw. She is a kid who is a good matchup defender, as well as causes turnovers and gives us more possessions."
Markham was modest about her achievements.
"The only reason I'm defender of the year is because of our team defense," Markham said. "Everyone sliding and working together is allowing me to get the caused turnovers that I do. It wouldn't be possible without our whole team collaborating as a unit."
Penn, as a unit, might have one more chance at revenge. If the Quakers get by Canisius, they will take on top-seeded Maryland, which beat Penn, 15-5, early in the season. The team is clamoring for the chance to avenge that loss.
"We felt very unfulfilled after that game," Markham said. "We did not play our best, and they got a few quick goals and we got in a hole early in the game. It is one of the same experiences. We lost to Princeton, we wanted revenge. We lost to Maryland, we want to get revenge as well."
"Hopefully, we can play better against Maryland than we did the first time," Corbett said. "Obviously they are a great team, but we did not have a good game. We have to play our best."
A solid performance against Canisius will place the Quakers right where they want to be, in the underdog role.
"We play our best games when we know we can do it, but not necessarily everyone in the stands or in the lacrosse world knows we can do it," Bensen said.